Guest blog: Homelessness causes poverty and poverty causes homelessness

Neil Cowan

Neil Cowan,
Head of Policy & Communications
Crisis in Scotland

When Crisis made the decision to join the Poverty Alliance last year, it was because of our belief that housing, homelessness and poverty are inseparable.

Homelessness causes poverty and poverty causes homelessness. The evidence on this is clear, and we know that child poverty is the single biggest predictor of homelessness later in life. We know how housing insecurity restricts people’s ability to plan for the future, how living in homelessness accommodation locks people out of employment, and how it drives up their day-to-day costs.

And we know what causes homelessness. When housing costs exceed someone’s income, pressure starts to rise. Maybe bills go up, maybe it is their rent, or maybe they see a drop in their income. Whatever the circumstances, if that imbalance goes on for too long, the pressure will become overwhelming and they will be pushed closer to homelessness.

Unfortunately, that is the reality we are seeing too often in Scotland today. We see it every day in our services in Edinburgh and the Lothians – where we have seen a 25% rise in demand – and in recent national figures, which showed that numbers in the Scottish homelessness system are at their highest since records began.

More people rough sleeping, more households, including children, trapped in temporary accommodation, and more people struggling to cope.

At its heart, this is the result of poverty. And while tackling poverty will help end homelessness, specific action to prevent homelessness in Scotland will alleviate pressure everywhere else too.

Every day, public services see the wider impact of homelessness on their work. We know from our research how interactions with health services spike in the run up to someone making a homelessness application. How homelessness and the justice system can form a revolving door. How the instability and uncertainty forced upon children living in temporary accommodation can disrupt their ability to attend school, or to learn properly when they get there.

It’s time to change that. Because while we know how the fire-fighting that comes with responding to homelessness puts pressure on the system, we also know how to prevent from happening in the first place. By allowing people to get help up to six months before they are at risk of homelessness, and by widening responsibility for preventing homelessness across public services - through new duties on public bodies to ask people about their housing situation and then acting to offer support if needed - we can help avoid people avoid the trauma and injustice of homelessness.

People working in health, education and justice – across all public services – interact with people at risk of homelessness. By giving them the tools, they can help prevent people being forced into housing crisis.

These proposals have cross-party support, and the Scottish Government has pledged to introduce them through the upcoming Housing Bill. Its ability to do that, and to ensure they are properly resourced and that they work in practice, will provide a key test of its wider commitment to tackling poverty in Scotland.
Challenge Poverty Week only runs for one week every year. But the message it sends – highlighting the injustice of poverty, and the fact it is within our power to end it – should be one that echoes through every other day, and every decision made by those in power, through the rest of the year.

We must work every day of the year, using every lever available to us, to reduce inequality, to tackle poverty, and to end homelessness. We know we can do it – the time is now.

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